POSTSCRIPT / November 18, 1999 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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With Ping at PNP, buck goes all the way to Erap

SOME of us are not happy with the human rights reputation of new PNP Chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, and may be clinging to the slim possibility that his appointment to the top police post will be waylaid at the Commission on Appointments.

But if you ask this corner, our unsolicited advice to his detractors, including those within the national police, is: Let’s give Lacson the benefit of the doubt.

Without prodding, among his first key statements was an affirmation of his resolve to clean the police of “hoodlums in uniform.” Having amply demonstrated his capability to produce results, he deserves a chance to prove himself in his new assignment as Top Cop.

In such organizations as the military and the police, commanders are not elected by the men in a popularity poll. By order, the commander steps forward and the rest follow.

There is no other way, if the organization expects to accomplish what the people wants it to do.

* * *

IF some ambitious police officers are entertaining the thought of dragging their feet, sowing intrigue, or sabotaging Lacson’s tenure (something we seriously doubt they would do), they better forget it. Or quit this early.

As part of the unification of the force under one responsible leadership, we suggest the dismantling of the PAOCTF, the superagency against organized crime, that Lacson headed in virtual independence from the police hierarchy.

An elite force operating under a separate chain of command is absurd and counter-productive.

Lacson has been regarded with fear and disdain by operators in the police hierarchy, because he is not one of the boys. This aloofness is actually a desirable trait, we think, because it makes Lacson less susceptible to that kind of accommodation that breeds corruption.

He appears less restrained by camaraderie to go after the corrupt and the corruptible men in uniform. He projects the image of one who means business.

* * *

IN short, when Ping Lacson’s clean-up message reverberates down the line, it is likely to be heard and heeded. This is the kind of stern leadership that the corrupt PNP needs now.

We’re among those who have misgivings about Lacson’s human rights record, but even with that negative point factored in, we feel he is – overall — the best choice at the moment.

Taking Lacson’s ascension in the bigger context of national politics, we can now use the general’s identification with his long-time friend and benefactor President Estrada to draw clearer lines of responsibility.

With him as commander-in-chief and his anointed warrior in full control of the PNP, the President will have no more excuse for poor performance in the peace and order department.

Failure of Lacson is the failure of the President.

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WE won’t be surprised if it turns out that the Skyway atop a portion of the South Superhighway from Makati to Bicutan has been losing heavily.

The projection in the feasibility study is for one out of every three vehicles plying that highway will go up to use the Skyway. As it is, it’s not even one out of every five. With that lean traffic, how can the Skyway generate enough earnings to make it profitable?

Even if they keep raising the toll on the Skyway, as they recently did amid protests, it cannot become viable with its small volume of traffic. In fact, the arbitrary raising of the toll from P35 to P45 for that short stretch to Bicutan may have even reduced the number of users.

Motorists and commuters can tolerate only so much exploitation, especially if there are alternative routes.

* * *

IN the Skyway, driving on the well-paved ground level is a sensible alternative. On normal-traffic days, cars that go up the Skyway usually come out at the Bicutan exit at the same time as those that remain on ground level and pay much less.

Unless you want to try the elevated road for the first time or show it off to visiting friends, what’s the point in going up the Skyway and paying exorbitant toll – at a rate that apparently has been padded by the added cost of corruption?

Another factor eroding the viability of the Skyway is the suspension of the next phase from Bicutan to Alabang while the developers try catching the elusive eye of President Estrada. The feasibility presumed that the Skyway covered the full distance to Alabang.

The Skyway developers have spent a fortune getting the green light of the Ramos administration. But you know how it is – investors must negotiate all over again, and spend more millions, to have a new administration look kindly on a project already approved and paid for under a previous dispensation.

There is a lesson somewhere here for the developers of the upcoming Metro Manila Rail line atop EDSA, whose toll rate is also expected to run ridiculously high because the developers have to recoup huge expenses incurred in the follow up of the contract through three – yes, three! – administrations.

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ON our item on dried rat urine on grocery items possibly carrying deadly viruses, reader Javier del Mundo reminds us to regard Internet items with extreme skepticism. Point well taken. Thanks for the advice.

He gave this site http://www.snopes.com/toxins/raturine.htm as source of more information on toxic rat urine. The site belittled concern that some careless consumers might get infection from handling canned soda and similar items exposed to rodents.

“Despite the vividness of the story,” the site says, “nothing about such a death turns up in the news. There is no record of anyone—store clerk or otherwise—dying at the St. Francis Hospital after coming in contact with rodent droppings.

“Most scares contain a vague whiff of plausibility. Although there is nothing inherently toxic about urine or feces from a healthy rat (you could probably ingest it all day, were you so inclined), excretions from a sick rat are another kettle of fish, and perhaps that is what this bit of scare lore is addressing.”

* * *

THE site concedes, however, that there have been several rat urine stories in the news of late. It cited various reports culled from newspapers worldwide, and went on to say:

“Leptospirosis, better known as Weil’s disease, is a potentially deadly illness caused by bacteria passed along to humans in contact with urine from diseased animals (rats, frogs, rabbits, snakes, pigs and dogs). It is picked up rurally from swimming in contaminated lakes and reservoirs.

“In cities, the bacteria are passed along more easily—people splashing through puddles in areas that have a large rodent population might contract the disease, and eating or drinking contaminated food and water is always a danger. Leptospirosis can also be contracted by rubbing eyes with dirty hands. People with open cuts and wounds are especially vulnerable to the bacteria, as it can be picked up almost anywhere.

“As the rat population in cities grows, so does the potential for contact with this disease.”

* * *

IT continues: “Leptospirosis typically causes aches, pains and fever that go away on their own. One in 10 cases includes high fever, jaundice, meningitis (inflammation of the brain lining), acute kidney failure, internal bleeding and, occasionally, death.

“Victims can die if they develop serious kidney or liver complications. In extreme cases, death follows three to six days after infection. The disease is treatable with antibiotics.

“In November 1998, leptospirosis killed eight people and hospitalized one hundred in China. In the same month in 1997, 22 people died from the same cause out of the 300 who were infected with it. In the United States, 100 to 200 cases of leptospirosis occur each year (with about half of those in Hawaii), according to the Center for Disease Control.

* * *

ANOTHER disease passed on through rat urine is hantavirus. It is transmitted to humans through breathing in particles of an infected rodent’s urine, droppings or saliva. The virus becomes airborne when excrement dries.

Early symptoms mimic the flu and can progress to respiratory failure. Since 1993, 21 deaths in the US have been blamed on this disease.

* * *

THE site continues: “In general, urine-encrusted soda cans are not the most likely purveyors of these diseases. Most cans of soda are packaged into cardboard boxes while still on the production line and thus aren’t at any risk of contamination. Additionally, once bottlers have mixed soft drink syrup is with soda water and sweetener, they try to get the finished product to the consumer as expeditiously as possible.

“Soft drink bottlers don’t warehouse large inventories of finished product for any length of time—freshness is everything, so the product is moved out quickly, leaving little opportunity for rodents to use the tops of cans as latrines.

“Nonetheless, it’s still always a good idea to wipe off cans from exposed six-packs or those dispensed from drink machines, if for no other reason than to avoid picking up something passed on by the human handlers of the product.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 18, 1999)

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